The Herbarie

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fall Lessons and Natural Antimicrobials

As summer has come to a close and winter is just around the corner, it seems natural to think about where we've been and where we want to go and how life is always changing. It's a time for reaping and sowing, cleaning out the old, and planning for new.

I see that our trees are changing and preparing for winter dormancy. The leaves are shades of gold, orange, red and brown and are falling to the Earth. I like to think about how the leaves will enrich the soil and the roots will grow deep for winter nourishment.

My beloved Zinnias are straggledy haggledy this time of year, but are still valiantly blooming and sending out thousands of seeds. I’ve pulled out many past-their-prime Zinnias to make way for the gorgeous Sansanqua blooms, but have left some of the still brilliant flowers for the bees and butterflies who love them.

Yesterday in the garden, I saw several beautiful Monarch and Swallowtail butterflies! They were moving from Zinnia to Zinnia in the late afternoon sunshine. I’m thinking that soon they will also be preparing for winter, but how nice to enjoy those blossoms while they can! It’s sad to know all the Zinnia flowers will be gone by the first frost, but it makes me happy to think about their rebirth in the Spring! I sowed the first tiny packet of Zinnia seeds in Spring of 1997. For many years I saved the seeds in Fall for careful sowing the following Spring. But over time, as I’ve developed a better understanding and faith in the process of life, the Zinnias have beautifully and bountifully sown themselves each year! I look forward to meeting the 14th generation in 2011 and together we will decide where to grow!

Last Winter we began renovating the gardens and business facilities and have made good progress, but there is still so much to be done! Hind sight being 20/20, back when we bought the property in 1996, I wish we would have developed a master design including the business facilities, gardens, our home, woods, etc. But instead, we’ve done everything bit by bit, adding things here and there over the years so that we now have a bit of a hodge-podge of this and that. Also, as a former city girl with a country heart and soul, I was so thrilled to have my own special place on Earth, a place to sow seeds and plant plants, that I filled every nook and cranny with TOO MUCH! So for the past year, I’ve been trying to rethink and rework the gardens and buildings to create spaces that are both enjoyable and have good functionality. The basic plan now is to work with what we have, while removing, refining and restructuring as needed to make the best of it!

We always have a lot going on at Stoney Hill Farm and The Herbarie! During the week, Earl, Jean, Andy and I can usually be found in the warehouse, office and/or processing area. We process over 40 of our own botanical extracts, complexes, hydrosols and other ingredients that we sell at The Herbarie. Our inventory includes approximately 400+ ingredients and products that we distribute from other manufacturers. In addition, our Formulary includes many sample formulas which demonstrate how to utilize our ingredients. The previous blog included three of my most recent formulas which demonstrated how to utilize Olivem 1000, Oliwax, Oliwax LC, and Olive Oil PEG 7 Esters. I very much enjoy working in the lab and had hoped to created new formulas for this Fall blog, but with the beautiful, cool weather I’ve been spending as much time as possible outside. So, instead of working in my lab on weekends, I’ve been in the garden. But I do want to discuss some important points regarding my Botanical Olive Natural Lotion.

Botanical Olive Natural Lotion

In a previous blog, I shared my formula for Botanical Olive Natural Lotion. This formula utilizes Olivem 1000 as the primary emulsifier, with Oliwax and XanThix to stabilize and enhance overall feel and texture. Botanical Olive Natural Lotion will be a very thick lotion or moderately thick cream. I’ve packaged it as a lotion with a pump dispenser and also as a cream in a jar. Either way, this formula makes a lovely emulsion!

It’s also very important to note the primary antimicrobial in this formula is natural sourced Leucidal Liquid. Leucidal Liquid is water soluble, compatible with most ingredients, and is odorless and colorless. In fact, the entire preservative system in this formula consists of natural source, plant based antimicrobials. We have been testing our batch sample over time since May and I am absolutely thrilled to report that our most recent tests are still <10 cfu/gram for yeast/ mold and <1 cfu/gram for bacteria! With these excellent test results at the six month point, I can recommend this formula and preservative system to our clients with reasonable confidence. We will continue to test this sample for at least one year or may choose to have the formula challenge tested. And as always, we encourage companies to conduct their own stability and preservative efficacy testing.

Here’s the formula:

Botanical Olive Natural Lotion

Part A or Oil Phase
5.0% = 25 grams Olivem 1000
2.0% = 10 grams Oliwax
8.0% = 40 grams Cupuacu Butter
5.0% = 25 grams Organic Golden Jojoba Oil
3.0% = 15 grams Olive Squalane
0.4% = 2 grams XanThix

Part B or Water Phase
65.95% = 329.75 Distilled Water
5.0% = 25 grams Symglucan

Part C or Cooldown Phase
2.0% = 10 grams Chia Seed CO2
0.05% = 0.25 grams Rosemary CO2 Extract
0.5% = 2.5 grams Lavender CO2 Extract
0.5% = 2.5 grams Bergamot FCF EO
0.5% = 2.5 grams Rose Geranium EO
0.1% = 0.5 grams Ylang Ylang EO
2.0% = 10 grams Leucidal Liquid

Total: 100% = 500 grams

Part A: Weigh XanThix and set aside. Combine remainder of ingredients and heat to 175F. Add XanThix to heated mixture and stir gently.
Part B: Combine ingredients and heat to 175F. Add Part B to A with high shear mixing. Cool to 50C/122F (or less)
Part C: Add ingredients, mix well until completely cool.

--I am always asked about substitutions and changes to formulas. When substitutions are used and formulas do not turn out as expected I am asked why. Of course, when changes are made, the outcome will be different. Some changes or substitutions will have a more significant impact than others. Some changes may be for the better or some could take it in the wrong direction. I recommend first making the formula as it is written, then tweak it to suit preferences in subsequent experiments.

Natural and Plant Based Preservatives

Nowadays, most customers are looking for less aggressive preservatives and "natural preservatives". Unfortunately there is no one perfect natural preservative that we can simply put into our finished formulations as an afterthought. Let me repeat: There is no one natural preservative that will work for every formula as an afterthought! However, it’s entirely possible to create a formula using natural antimicrobials to create a viable preservative system that can demonstrate efficacy in a particular formula. Notice that I often use the terms “antimicrobial” and “antioxidant” and “preservative system” instead of “preservative”. We need to move away from the idea of creating fabulous formulas only to realize at the last minute that it needs a “preservative”. Instead, we need to consider the entire formulation including a preservative system that may in fact be multifunctional as well. Creating an effective preservative system takes time and testing for each and every formulation. What works for one formulation, may not work for another. So, please make note, it's always best to create a formula from start to finish with the preservative system in mind.

The Botanical Olive Natural Lotion contains many nutrient-rich, moisturizing and conditioning ingredients. They were carefully chosen to complement one another in various ways. Many of the ingredients are also multifunctional. For example, Rosemary Antioxidant CO2 Extract is a powerful antioxidant which will help delay the oxidation of oils. In addition, Rosemary Antioxidant CO2 Extract offers some antimicrobial activity and has skin soothing, anti-irritant characteristics. As an added plus, Rosemary Antioxidant CO2 Extract is certified organic by the USDA NOP. Now that’s one powerful, multifunctional ingredient! I also chose a blend of essential oils for their antimicrobial activity, synergy and lovely scent. Lavender Flower CO2 Extract, Rose Geranium Essential Oil, Bergamot FCF Essential Oil, and just a touch of Ylang Ylang Essential Oil provide a fresh, green-floral scent that I just adore!

Microbial Testing

When I created the Botanical Olive Natural Lotion formula in May 2010, I speculated and hoped these antimicrobials would work in synergy and prove to be a broad-spectrum preservative system with efficacy to inhibit the growth of microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, mold) and most especially pathogenic organisms such as Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas species, Enterobacteriaceae and Candida albicans. But while I can speculate and hope the cream will be well preserved, the only way to know for sure is with microbial testing. There are a number of different testing procedures and methods. The standard in our industry is Challenge Testing for various microorganisms with a standardized protocol. Challenge Testing provides information about a specific formula and whether or not it will stand up to the challenge of being inoculated with specific microorganisms over a specified period of time. Challenge Testing is pass/fail and is expensive. As a viable and less expensive first step or alternative, we often recommend using Normal Usage Testing. I’ll explain how Normal Usage Testing works for us and can work for others.

We utilized Normal Usage Testing for our Botanical Olive Natural Lotion. The name speaks for itself. Since May, the product has been packaged in a jar and has “been used normally” on a routine basis. We can determine preservative system efficacy by testing the same sample (APC/yeast/mold) repeatedly with normal usage over time. The initial test results should have very low counts and will not tell us much about preservative efficacy, but will provide valuable information about Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). The subsequent test results will tell us more about Preservative System Efficacy or how the preservative system will stand up over time.

Our Normal or Possible Usage testing includes putting unwashed fingers into the jar repeatedly and any number of things customers may do once the product is in their hands. Please note this procedure does carry some risk since there is potentially a period of time where the product could be contaminated without the user knowing it. Therefore, as part of the protocol, we recommend “normal usage” should be immediately following test results.

Here’s the way it works: After each period of “Normal or Possible Usage”, a sample from this original batch is sent to the lab for testing. Usually one ounce samples are sufficient. I opt for the following testjng schedule:

●Manufacture sample – determines GMP
●One month from manufacture date – sets baseline
●Three months from manufacture date
●Six months from manufacture date
●One year from manufacture date

For each APC/yeast/mold sample test our goal is:
●Less than 1 cfu/gram for bacteria
●Less than 10 cfu/gram for mold and yeast
●Contains no pathogenic organisms

For more information about how to proceed with microbial testing, please send me an email:

Please note: Responsible cosmetic and toiletry businesses will be familiar with the FDA Guidelines for Cosmetics and will adhere to the FDA Good Manufacturing Guidelines (GMP).

Creating a Preservative System for Cosmetic Formulations

For excellent detailed information about preserving cosmetics and toiletries, I highly recommend David Steinberg’s “Preservatives for Cosmetics” and “Preservative Free and Self Preserving Cosmetics and Drugs – Principles and Practices” by Jon Kabara and others.

My goal for this blog is to share some very basic information that I hope will be helpful. It’s important to learn as much as possible about each and every ingredient, including antimicrobials. For example, some antimicrobials are water soluble and some are more oil soluble. Some antimicrobials are cationic and will not be compatible in anionic formulations. Some antimicrobials are not compatible with certain ingredients. Some work in synergy and others don’t.

Water Soluble Antimicrobials

Water is the substance for life and that includes microorganisms. The most effective antimicrobials will be water soluble so they can most efficiently inhibit the microorganisms in the water portion.

Water soluble antimicrobials are used in watery products that do not contain emulsifiers. Water soluble antimicrobials can also be used in emulsions. The antimicrobials in this category range from aggressive and efficient broad spectrum to very mild gentle with minimal antimicrobial activity. Some can be used as the primary or only antimicrobial in the formula, others play a supportive role and must be used in combination.

Water soluble antimicrobials that can play a primary role in the preservative system include the following:

●Germall Plus Liquid – synthetic, completely water soluble, easy to use viscous liquid, highly efficient at low percentages, broad spectrum, excellent compatibility, offers best assurance for most difficult to preserve formulations. Downside is that some formulators do not want to work with a formaldehyde donor.
●Leucidal Liquid – plant based/natural, completely water soluble, easy to use liquid, non irritating, odorless, available data demonstrates broad spectrum activity, excellent compatibility. Synergy with other antimicrobials such as Aspen Bark Extract. Downside is lack of data.
●Cosmocil CQ – synthetic, completely water soluble, non irritating and very gentle, can be used near mucous membranes, our test results demonstrate excellent efficacy when used in all water formulations as well as in cationic emulsions. Downside is incompatibility with anionics.
●Aspen Bark Extract – plant based/natural, available data demonstrates broad spectrum antimicrobial activity, good compatibility, synergy with other antimicrobials such as Leucidal Liquid. Downside is lack of available data. Powdered form is not as easy to use as a liquid.
●Optiphen ND – synthetic, water dispersible, but not completely water soluble and works best with an emulsifier or surfactant. Downside is that it will not be a good choice for formulations with a pH greater than 5.5.

Here are a few supportive antimicrobials and/or chelating agents. Please read more about these water soluble/dispersible ingredients on our website product pages:

●Willow bark Extract
●Wasabi Extract
●Versene NA Crystals (Disodium EDTA) and Tetrasodium EDTA
●Citric Acid

Oil Soluble and Oil Dispersible Antimcrobials

Oil soluble antimicrobials are used in anhydrous or oily products such as salves and balms and other products that do not contain water. Oil soluble antimicrobials can also be used in emulsions such as creams and lotions because the emulsifier will help the oily antimicrobial move to the water portion. Since we know most of the microbial activity is happening in the water portion, this is an important consideration. Again, within this category there are more aggressive and less aggressive antimicrobials. Few are broad spectrum, with Optiphen being the exception. Optiphen has demonstrated good efficacy in a number of different formulations including emulsions. However, most of the oil soluble antimicrobials will play a supporting role instead of a primary one. Here are some examples of oil soluble antimcrobials and antioxidants:

●Rosemary Antioxidant CO2 Extract – both antioxidant and antimicrobial activity, multifunctional as skin soothing agent.
●Various essential oils such as geranium, lavender, tea tree, oregano, thyme, rosemary. Use caution since overuse of essential oils can be dangerous or sensitizing.
●Usnea Lichen CO2 Extract – water dispersible
●St. John’s Wort CO2 Extract
●Gramwell Root CO2 Extract
●Coviox T-50 – mixed tocopherols – antioxidant, will help delay oxidation of oils. Synergy with Rosemary Antioxidant CO2 Extract


The Herbarie at Stoney Hill Farm, Inc. – 10 Year Celebration – Thank You!

Time flies and before you know it, we’ve been in business for 10 years! As any successful business owner knows, we’ve worked very hard to achieve our success and we are proud of our achievements. But we certainly couldn’t have made it without our dear friends and customers! Many of our first customers are still with us after all this time and we are grateful for their loyalty. We are also happy to “meet” our many new customers every day!

During the month of November, every online order will receive a small gift as a special THANK YOU! We will continue to celebrate in December and into 2011 with special THANK YOU! gifts for our customers! The Herbarie Customers are the BEST!

Best Wishes for a Colorful Fall!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

All About Olives, Bluebirds, and Cool Cucumbers!

During Summer I'm usually outside as soon as the sun is up. Early morning is an exciting time to be awake and out and about the farm. As I make my way to the garden, I hear the black capped chickadees call "fee bee - fee bee" and the Rufous-Sided Towhees call "drink your tea, drink your tea". I notice how the rabbits sit perfectly still as they hope to blend into their surroundings. As I walk into the garden the ruby throated hummers zoom in to the feeders with a chit-chit, chit-chit which I suppose means good morning!!

As I work in the garden, I
enjoy my breakfast of blackberries and blueberries and cucumbers! For several weeks we have been picking gallon after gallon of blueberries. We eat them fresh, give many away and then freeze the remainder. Blueberries freeze well and can be used throughout the year to make delicious smoothies, jams or jellies, muffins, etc.

During the hot afternoon, we cool off with blueberry smoothies

or afternoon slices of watermelon!

Our organically grown Cucumbers have produced beautifully this year! Last evening I made a Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Thai Basil. The recipe is easy - just one crisp, cold cucumber sliced very thin, one or two Roma tomatoes diced, toss in a handful of fresh Thai Basil leaves, a dash of Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a dash of Balsamic Vinegar, some sea salt and ground pepper - toss all together - top off with Feta cheese. Nutritious and Delicious and Cool!

Botanicals From The Herbarie! -
Cucumber Extract WS

We use these same organically grown cucumbers to process our wonderful Cucumber Extract WS! Our Cucumber Extract WS is NOT EDIBLE, but is truly fabulous for skin care and the perfect gentle astringent for summer.

Last week I came up with a simple, but very nice and emollient facial cleanser and eye makeup remover using our Cucumber Extract WS and Olive Oil PEG 7 Esters.

Olive Oil PEG 7 Esters

Multifunctional Olive Oil PEG 7 Esters (Olivem 300) continues to be one of our best selling products!
Olive Oil PEG 7 Esters offers the rich emolliency of Olive Oil in a uniquely water soluble and oil dispersible product!

Olive Oil PEG 7 Esters
is a lovely, multifunctional ingredient for dispersible bath oil blends, oil based facial cleansers, water based facial cleansers. It can also be used as a co-emulsifier in creams and lotions, and as a re-fatting agent in shampoo or body wash that will not compromise foam.

Cool Cucumber Olive Facial Cleanser and Eye Makeup Remover

15% Olive Oil PEG 7 Esters
74% Cucumber Extract
1% Cosmocil CQ

This simple formula is the best eye makeup remover I've ever used and just a few drops on a cotton pad will do it.
All ingredients are safe for leave-on products so it doesn't have to be rinsed off. I typically use this formula as an overall facial cleanser and eye makeup remover in the shower with rinse-off. It leaves my skin soft and smooth and feeling great! This formula is not thick, but I find it to be the perfect viscosity for my own use. I've packaged mine in a bottle with a dispensing cap.

But there are all sorts of possibilities with this formula:

  • To thicken this formula, it would be possible to use HEC or HPMC or XanThix or UltraMaize. I haven't experimented with the percentages, but would try 0.5%-1.0% HEC or HPMC or UltraMaize. Maybe 0.1% XanThix. A thickened formula could be packaged in a tube or pump container.

  • Nice additives could include our Rose Phytolate, Olive Leaf Extract, Antioxidant Complex T5, Edelweiss Extract, Helichrysum Extract, Hibiscus Extract, Licorice Root Extract, Honeysuckle Extract WS, Tamarind Seed Extract, or Symglucan.

More From the Sacred and Noble Olive Tree - The ancient olive tree is rich in folklore and offers many wellness, skin and hair care benefits. I learned the benefits of olive oil at an early age from my southern Italian mother. She used Olive Oil for everything - cooking, skin care and hair care. I now do the same thing.

We've recently added two new Olive products to our inventory! In addition to our Organic Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Olive Oil PEG 7 Esters, Olivem 1000 and Olive Leaf Extract, we are excited to offer Oliwax and Oliwax LC!

Oliwax is a completely natural, multifunctional lipid obtained 100% from Olive Oil. Oliwax is rich in squalene and unsaponifiable olive oil fractions and recommended for both skin care and hair care. Oliwax is conditioning and will build structure and increase viscosity in creams and lotions as well as anhydrous products such as body butters, lip balms, and salves. The unique “crystal network” is similar to human skin lipids and promotes excellent delivery to skin. Unlike many other waxy lipids, Oliwax offers conditioning with a light, silky-smooth feel.

Clinical tests have demonstrated that Oliwax is hypoallergenic and an excellent choice for sensitive skin. Oliwax has not been tested on animals, is completely biodegradable and compatible with most cosmetic ingredients.

Oliwax is stable to oxidation, is odorless and colorless and offered in easy to use flake form. The melt point is approximately 55° C which allows substitution for waxy products such as beeswax and other waxes.

I've made a super emollient, conditioning lotion using Olivem 1000 as the complete emulsifier with Oliwax as the stabilizing, conditioning, and "bodifying" agent. Botanical Olive Natural Lotion is very moisturizing and conditioning, but doesn't feel greasy, waxy or oily. I'll outline the various ingredients and their functionality:

Cupuaçu Butter is one of my favorite butters for skin care and hair care. It contains phytosterols and unsaponifiables that help to regulate the balance and activity of lipids in the epidermis and it does not have a greasy feel when used in emulsions. It has a high capacity for water absorption which gives it superior moisturizing properties. Cupuaçu Butter offers a lovely emolliency that will restore elasticity and softness to skin.

Our Organic Certified Golden Jojoba Oil is actually a liquid wax ester with characteristics similar to skin. Jojoba Oil is stable to oxidation, is absorbed quickly and has a feel that I love - I use it in almost all my products.
Olive Squalane is an emollient lipid with excellent stability and provides a nice slip to this formula.

is a water phase stabilizer and viscosity builder. At low percentages (0.1%-0.3%) XanThix will enhance the feel and slip in application. When XanThix is used at higher percentages, the esthetics of the formulation will diminish.
XanThix is water soluble. Like most other gums, XanThix works by swelling in water. Even though XanThix is water soluble, it's more easily added to the oil phase of emulsions. Other gums, such as HPMC or HEC can also easily be added to the oil phase of emulsions. First heat the oil phase to the desired temperature - usually around 175F - then add the pre-weighed XanThix to the hot oils/lipids with gentle stirring to be sure the particles have separated. Then proceed with the formulation as usual. Swelling will occur during cool-down and viscosity of the formulation will increase as a result.

SymGlucan® is an exciting multifunctional, antiaging ingredient manufactured by Symrise. SymGlucan® is made by a patented technology which refines Oat Beta-Glucan to produce a highly active soluble fraction. SymGlucan® has been clinically shown to penetrate the skin and help reduce the visible signs of aging. SymGlucan's unique delivery system stimulates fibroblast growth and collagen synthesis which reduces the appearance of wrinkles. Studies have also demonstrated SymGlucan® to be an excellent moisturizer that provides even better long-term moisturization than Hyaluronic Acid. SymGlucan helps to restore skin's youthful elasticity and softness. I use SymGlucan at 5% in most of my emulsions and can definitely tell the difference when using it.

Chia Seed CO2 Extract is unique as it contains the highest concentration vegetarian source omega-3 linolenic acid. These high concentrations of alpha linolenic acid help both skin and hair to maintain moisture. In addition to moisturization, Chia Seed CO2 Extract promotes skin elasticity and can help to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Nutrient-rich Chia Seed CO2 Extract offers skin smoothing characteristics leading to soft, silky and healthy skin. Chia Seed CO2 Extract can also be used for effective moisturization in hair and scalp formulations. I add this oil at cool-down temperatures.

For the Botanical Olive Natural Lotion, I've chosen a blend of extracts and essential oils to provide a wonderful scent as well as antimicrobial activity. Lavender Flower CO2 Extract, Rose Geranium Essential Oil, Bergamot FCF Essential Oil, and just a touch of Ylang Ylang Essential Oil provide a fresh, green-floral scent that I just adore!

Nowadays, most customers are looking for less aggressive preservatives and "natural preservatives". Unfortunately there is no one perfect natural preservative that we can simply put into our finished formulations as an afterthought. Creating an effective preservative system takes time and testing for each and every formulation. What works for one formulation, may not work for another.
It's always best to create a formula from start to finish with the preservative system in mind.

I've combined these antimicrobial oils to work in synergy with Rosemary Antioxidant CO2 Extract and Leucidal Liquid to offer a broad-spectrum preservative system in this formula.

The Herbarie offers many natural antimicrobials such as Leucidal Liquid, Aspen Bark Extract, Usnea Lichen CO2, Cucurma Xanthorrhiza, Geogard Ultra, Rosemary Antioxidant CO2 Extract and others. It will be up to the creative cosmetic formulator to mix and match and combine these ingredients for broad spectrum antimicrobial activity. Using hurdle technology, smart packaging and good manufacturing practices will definitely help. However, the only way to know for sure whether or not a preservative system is effective is with microbial testing. We work collaboratively with an independent lab and have developed a protocol for inexpensive "Normal Usage Testing". If anyone is interested, please send me an email and I'll be happy to share the information.

We are in the process of testing our Botanical Olive Natural Lotion, but our results are not yet complete. We are in our second round of microbial testing and the results are very promising - less than 30 cfu/gram for bacteria and less than 10 cfu/gram for mold/fungus/yeast. We will continue microbial testing on this formula for up to one year.

Here's my formula with a 500 gram batch calculated. I hope you enjoy Botanical Olive Natural Lotion as much as I do!

Botanical Olive Natural Lotion

Part A or Oil Phase
5.0% = 25 grams Olivem 1000
2.0% = 10 grams Oliwax
8.0% = 40 grams Cupuacu Butter
5.0% = 25 grams Organic Golden Jojoba Oil
3.0% = 15 grams Olive Squalane
0.4% = 2 grams XanThix

Part B or Water Phase
65.95% = 329.75 Distilled Water
5.0% = 25 grams Symglucan

Part C or Cooldown Phase
2.0% = 10 grams Chia Seed CO2
0.05% = 0.25 grams Rosemary CO2 Extract
0.5% = 2.5 grams Lavender CO2 Extract
0.5% = 2.5 grams Bergamot FCF EO
0.5% = 2.5 grams Rose Geranium EO
0.1% = 0.5 grams Ylang Ylang EO
2.0% = 10 grams Leucidal Liquid

Total: 100% = 500 grams

Part A: Weigh XanThix and set aside. Combine remainder of ingredients and heat to 175F. Add XanThix to heated mixture and stir gently.
Part B: Combine ingredients and heat to 175F. Add Part B to A with high shear mixing. Cool to 50C/122F (or less)
Part C: Add ingredients, mix well until completely cool.

Oliwax LC is a Liquid Crystal Promoter derived from Olive Oil fatty acids. Oliwax LC is designed to stabilize oil in water emulsions while enhancing the texture and feel in application. The unique “crystal network” is similar to human skin lipids and promotes excellent delivery to skin. Unlike many other waxy lipids, Oliwax LC offers stabilization with a light, silky-smooth feel.

Suggested Applications:
● Daily Moisturizers
● Night Creams
● Eye Creams
● Products for Sensitive Skin
● After-sun Creams and Lotions
● Sun-care products
● Makeup Foundation

I'm currently using a really nice moisturizer made with everything Olive! Olive Tree Skin Renew Lotion is moisturizing and conditioning, yet leaves my face feeling soft and smooth - no greasiness and no whitening effect in application. This antiaging formula is based on the complete emulsifier Olivem 1000 with Oliwax LC to enhance stability and improve texture. The Liquid Crystal structure of Oliwax LC allows for greater emulsion stability and moisturization capabilities.

Here's some information about the other wonderful ingredients:

Olive Squalane provides superb emolliency and slip and Organic Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil provides good nutrition for skin.

Olive Leaf Extract (Eurol BT)
is a multifunctional active ingredient from a natural blend of diphenolic structures such as Oleuropein. Olive Leaf Extract serves as a free-radical scavenger and antioxidant, but also offers hydrating and anti-inflammatory characteristics.

Matrix Peptide
is an active antiaging ingredient suitable for creams, lotions, serums and toners. Matrix Peptide can reduce the appearance of wrinkles by promoting the synthesis of collagen.

The active constituents of Tamarind Seed Extract are of great benefit in skin care. Studies have shown that Tamarind Seed Extract significantly improves skin elasticity, hydration and smoothness.

Coviox T-50 or mixed tocopherols, serve as the antioxidant in this formula to help delay oxidation of oils and provide a longer shelf-life for this formula. Germall Plus Liquid is a robust preservative for this formula.

And here's the formula:

Olive Tree Skin Renew Lotion

Part One or Oil Phase
5.0% Olivem 1000
3.0% Oliwax LC
5.0% Olive Squalane
5.0% Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
0.5% Coviox T 50

0.1% XanThix

Part Two or Water Phase
75.85% Distilled Water

Part Three or Cooldown Phase
0.25% Olive Leaf Extract
4.0%Tamarind Seed Extract
1.0% Matrix Peptide
0.3% Germall Plus Liquid

-Part One: Weigh XanThix and set aside. Combine all other ingredients and heat to 175F. Add XanThix to hot oils while stirring gently to separate particles.

-Part Two: Heat Distilled Water to 175F, add to Part One with mixing. Using a stickblender for small batches works fine. As emulsion begins to cool, switch to a handheld stir tool such as our stainless steel wire whip.

-Part Three: When temperature of emulsion cools to 115F or less, combine ingredients and add to combined Part One/Two. Mix well until emulsion is completely cool.

Tip: For small batches weighing 500 grams or less, I often use a gallon or quart size plastic freezer bag for dispensing emulsions into bottles. When batch is complete, scoop into the freezer bag and seal. Cut off the tip of the bag and dispense into bottles - easy peasy!

Happy Formulating!


A Bit More Stoney Hill Farm News!

-Update on Sally!

Sally has finished her 19 radiation treatments - yay! -
and she is doing very well! These treatments were Monday through Friday and Sally had to be anesthetized each day. Even though it's been "ruff" she has maintained a positive attitude and even has pep in her step on the good days :-)

Sally is pictured here with the wonderful oncology team at Upstate Veterinary Specialists in Greenville, SC.
Everyone has been so good to Sally and she will miss seeing them. Sally's oncologist, Dr. Sarah Kraiza (in dark gray behind Sally) is one of the nicest people I've ever met. Dr. Kraiza is a talented doctor, but also has an extraordinary gift of kindness and truly went the extra mile to make this experience as good as it could possibly be for all of us.

We are looking forward to a full recovery and many good times ahead!


-We were happy to have a family of Eastern Bluebirds build a nest close to our office and garden. Yesterday Earl spent several hours observing Mom and Dad Bluebird trying to teach the last little one to leave the nest.

Bluebird House Near Office

Bluebird Male

Feeding the last little one.

Last But Not Least

What If I Can't Fly?

Bluebird Dad demonstrates how it's done and is ready to offer positive reinforcement. As of this morning, all babies were out of the nest and flying on their own!

Best Wishes for Fearless Flying, Fun Formulating, and Staying Coooool As a Cucumber this Summer!


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice is here! St. John's Wort is blooming and the forest and field creatures are ready for dancing! A time for magical transformation!

Right now I'm sitting in our newly renovated office which is next door to our newly renovated processing/lab facility. Since we incorporated The Herbarie approximately 10 years ago, we've expanded our warehouse and business facilities numerous times to accommodate our growth. But this time we simply did not want to build another structure; instead we chose to rethink the existing facilities. During May and June our workspace was completely redesigned and renovated to allow for greater functionality and we are thrilled to have completed these changes!

I love my new processing/lab facility! I've just started a distillation of chamomile which smells wonderful to me! The next phase of the renovation will be to complete a break room for employees and to rework and refinish another storage area.

May was a lovely month here at the farm and the roses bloomed beautifully! We distilled our Rose Hydrosol each week and enjoyed the scent of our roses while we worked inside. When our hybrid musk Belinda rose is in full bloom she takes center stage. The bees love Belinda and so do I!

My overall theme and focus for 2010 seems to be on redesigning, restructuring, and reorganizing everything - life, gardens, and work! The gardens are slowly, but surely, evolving into what I have envisioned for years. While our cottage gardens are not spectacular, the birds, bees, butterflies and I love them!

Every year our Zinnias reseed and share their happy blooms with us. Our Zinnias, Cleome (spider flower), Pineapple Sage, Sunflower, Vitex (Chaste Berry) Tree, and Camellia Sansanqua are pictured here.

Several years ago, we created wide gravel paths between garden beds of different shapes and sizes. Last month we continued this theme into our main vegetable and rose garden.

As a tribute to my winter visitor Joy, I've set up a permanent space for hummers near the huge Monsieur Tillier and Mrs. B.R. Cant roses.

This is a view of Joy's Place including Monsieur Tillier, Mrs. B.R. Cant and Crepescule Roses. The gravel paths provide pleasant access to the gardens for planting, mulching, harvesting and simple enjoyment!

Ruby Throated Hummers have been here since May and are enjoying the flowers and the sugar water feeders. Just this past weekend, I noticed this courting male performing his arc dance for a female. I bet there's a tiny nest around here somewhere!

We've recently built three pergolas in one of our garden beds that will eventually have a small garden pond in the center. Inspired by our friends Patti and Jay, we've planted 4 Hardy Kiwi vines - one male and three female along the sides of the pergolas. As you can see, this bed is still under construction. We recycle our many cardboard boxes by using them as biodegradable weed control and ground cover in our gardens. The boxes form the first layer over weeds and then we cover the cardboard with hardwood mulch. Near each Kiwi plant, we layered rabbit manure between the cardboard and the hardwood mulch. Within a few months the "sheet composting", along with microbes and worms, will yield nutrient-rich soil.

Hardy Kiwi are vigorous vines and in two or three years will cover the pergolas. I'm looking forward to the lush, shady summer retreat as well as the fruits! The garden pond will hopefully be done this fall or winter.

It's important to note that we did not do this work all by ourselves. Most of the hardscaping, work on the garden paths, and pergolas, and also the business facility renovations were done by our neighbor Bobby Morris. Bobby is brilliant and "can do anything" - a real Renaissance man. He's completing his doctorate in religion, plants a huge vegetable garden every year, speaks and teaches Hebrew, and can build or rebuild any vehicle or building from top to bottom. I've shared my visions and ideas with him and he has been able to make my ideas a reality.
Thank you, Bobby!

On Mother's Day, Earl, Sally and I visited my daughter Kim in Durham, NC. Amy - my youngest daughter - came up from Dallas and we had a wonderful time! This is a picture of Amy, Sally and me at Kim's soccer game.

The weekend after our fun visit to Durham, I found a lump on Sally's left elbow. We took her to the vet immediately and they recommended surgery. We scheduled Sally's surgery early June and it went well, but the biopsy results told us that Sally has a soft tissue sarcoma. While this was certainly not the best news, it wasn't the worst news either since soft tissue sarcomas are more localized and less likely to metastasize.

However, because of the location of the tumor, there was no way to remove enough surrounding tissue to allow for good, clean surgical margins. Therefore, the likely recommended treatment will be radiation - twice a week for five weeks. We've scheduled an appointment with an oncologist so we'll know more about the treatment at that time. Even though we are naturally upset about all of this, the prognosis is good for this type of cancer and we are very, very hopeful that Sally will have a complete recovery.

Sally is pictured here about two days after her surgery. She's wearing her tee shirt to protect the elbow. Jean gave her the cute little dolly. Right now, Sally is happy and enjoys the extra attention.

Last fall and winter I began a new spiritual journey that has proved to be very enlightening and has also brought much joy to my life. We stay so busy and it seems like we rush from one thing to the next, one day to the next, multi-tasking as well! I've learned how to slow down enough "to smell the roses". I understand that life is more about the journey than the destination.

It's so important to make the most of each day - to enjoy each moment, both in work to play. So often the special gifts are right in front of us. A friend's smile or kind word, a bird's brilliant color and song, or the scent of a flower can bring great joy. Just this morning, when Sally and I were on our walk, a gorgeous black swallowtail butterfly appeared. The butterfly flew around us and just in front of us for quite a while - a special gift for us! I like to think the butterfly represented beautiful transformation that is available to all of us no matter our circumstances!

May we all be blessed with butterflies and beautiful transformations. Best wishes for a joyful summer!


Friday, April 30, 2010

The Roses Are Blooming!

To everything there is a season and the roses are blooming again! We have a gorgeous morning here at Stoney Hill Farm – clear and cool – fresh green against cerulean blue sky – the kind of day that we wish could last forever. This week, most of the roses are in full bloom! Some of my favorites are Sarah Van Fleet, Belinda’s Dream, Abraham Darby, Othello, The Prince, Madame Isaac Perrier, The Apothecary, Zephirine Drouhin, Mrs. B.R. Cant, and Monsieur Tillier. Each season I am amazed by their generosity and beauty.

I’ve spent the morning in the garden with my roses, harvesting many blossoms for distillation, many for drying, cutting some for the office and home, leaving some untouched to simply enjoy their beauty as they grow. I’m running our second rose distillation this week and the rose scent is heavenly!! For me it just doesn’t get better than this!

We have been spending as much time in the garden as possible, but this time of year there is never enough time to do everything! In addition to our gardening, we are also very busy with processing our herbs and flowers for our botanical extracts and complexes. The long awaited Botanical Complex HCA is now in stock! Rose Phytolate Botanical Complex will soon be available. As requested, new botanical extracts and complexes are on the horizon!

The warehouse staff is still very busy with orders and we are thankful for our loyal customers! We are all working very hard to streamline our warehouse procedures so that we can maintain our quick turnaround. But since there are only 24 hours in a day, we sometimes don’t meet our goal of 24-48 hours. For customers who need immediate shipping, we offer our RUSH order option which we mention in our Sales and Shipping Policies.

But even though we are soooo busy, I wanted to take just a few minutes to share some pictures and let everyone know what’s happening at the farm.

I’ll report that Joy, my winter hummer, left for the Pacific Northwest on March 25. I was so very sad for her to leave, but I like to think of her finding a mate and building her nest to raise her babies. I am hoping she will return this Fall. I’ll certainly be watching for her!

Soon after Joy left, we had our first Ruby-Throated Hummer visit the sugar water feeders. It was a female apparently scouting around for a good summer spot. She must have spread the word because this morning I saw two hummers zooming around one of the feeders.

Hummingbirds and other birds, butterflies, bees all love our gardens since there is always something blooming and there are many nice places to nest, rest and enjoy.

Best Wishes for a Beautiful Blooming Season!


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring is Here!

The daffodils are blooming, the birds are singing, the bees are buzzing and Joy is still in my garden!

It’s hard to believe that we are almost three months into 2010! We’ve certainly had an unusually cold winter, but there’s no doubt, Spring has now arrived!

I’ve planted Sugar Snap Peas and Snow Peas in the garden, they’ve germinated and are just now coming up. The seedlings under lights and on heat mats germinated beautifully and look like they are doing well. This year I sowed less because of time limitations. I chose two heirloom tomato varieties – Rose, which is our all-time favorite and Brandywine which is an old-time favorite but a new one for us. I also chose two varieties of Pepper – the absolutely delicious Corno di Toro sweet pepper and Aji Colorado a medium hot pepper. We’ll have two varieties of Basil – Sweet Genovese and Thai Basil. I plan to sow some Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) as well. I also sowed some of the delicious Rosa Bianca Eggplant. The miracle of Spring and the germination of seeds is a wonder of life that is a joy to behold.

Speaking of Joy, yes, she is still here. I was told that if we were lucky she may stay until March when breeding-time calls for her to leave for the Pacific Northwest. So, every morning when I go into the garden at dawn, I wait and wonder and hope I will see her. The chickadees are the first to call in the still dark mornings with their plaintive song of “fee-bee, fee-bee” as they pair up for mating. At dawn, the cardinals and the other birds join in for an early morning symphony. Then Joy zooms in to the sugar water feeder at the appointed time as the prima donna of the garden. She has survived the coldest winter we’ve seen in SC in many, many years with temperatures consistently less than 20F for days. She is a beautiful, brave, resourceful and resilient little bird. Joy has inspired me in so many ways and has taught me that each day is a gift to be cherished.

The Herbarie has been very busy and it’s been difficult to keep up at times. But Andy, Jean, Earl (not in the picture) and I have been working, working, working to keep shelves stocked and orders moving as quickly as possible! Within a few weeks, we should be back on our usual speedy schedule since we are adding new staff and increasing staff hours.

Our Herbarie customers will be happy to know that our Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) will be ready for ‘first harvest’ in about two weeks! As soon as it’s lush and green, we’ll be able to process our Botanical Complex HCA which also includes Peppermint Leaf, Yucca, Horsetail Leaf, and Nettle Leaf Extracts. This botanical complex has become a best seller and we’ve been out of stock for about a month. Botanical Complex HCA is rich in nutrients that are beneficial for both hair and skin and also has a fresh, clean scent. So, be sure to check the website for Botanical Complex HCA in mid April!

We are excited about gardening this year and look forward to all the fresh vegetables that will be coming soon! Throughout the winter our collards, turnips and mustard greens did well inspite of the snow and freezing rain. We are still harvesting collards and mustard greens although with temperatures around 75F, they will soon be going to seed. So yesterday I made sure to harvest some fresh collards and mustard greens for my dinner. Along with the Pink-eye Purple Hull crowder peas from our freezer, they made a delicious and nutritious meal.

My overall garden plan this year is for enjoyment! With that thought in mind, I am focusing on structure, functionality, nutrition, and beauty. Some may wonder how structure and functionality weigh into enjoyment? I’ve found it’s important to structure the gardens so we can more easily work within them. We spend a great deal of our time mulching and weeding. Two years ago we laid gravel paths throughout the various gardens which made access much easier and allowed for drainage also. This year we are extending the gravel paths into our big, fenced garden where we have beds for our roses, herbs and veggies. This will make access so much easier. As part of the overall plan, we are also building several pergolas in one of the other garden beds. I had considered planting more muscadines to cover the pergola and provide a lush shady retreat in the summer as well as delicious fruit in the Fall. After reading about Hardy Kiwi and seeing pictures of the lush vines that our good friends Patti and Jay have planted, I was inspired to try them instead. As part of that bed we will also build a small pond for water plants. I’m so excited about all the new plans!

All the gardening and hard work can lead to dry, rough and chapped hands. I’ve made a rich, moisturizing Gardener’s Hand Cream that both Earl and I use after a long day in the garden or anytime really. I’ll share the formula with you:

Gardener’s Hand Cream with Sugarmulse

Part One or Water Phase:
68.96% Distilled Water
0.5% HEC

Part Two or Oil Phase:
4% Sugarmulse
10% Cupuacu Butter
6% Golden Jojoba Oil – Organic Certified
3% Botanical Complex LSCD
0.5% Coviox T50

Part Three or Cool-down Phase:
5% Symglucan
1% Myrtle EO and Lavender EO Blend
0.04% Rosemary Antioxidant CO2 Extract
1% Optiphen

100% Total

I prepared a 500 gram batch that I packaged in two 8 ounce jars. Here’s the batch I worked out:

Gardener’s Hand Cream with Sugarmulse – 500 gram batch

Part One or Water Phase:
68.96% Distilled Water = 344.80 grams
0.5% HEC = 2.5 grams

Part Two or Oil Phase:
4% Sugarmulse = 20 grams
10% Cupuacu Butter = 50 grams
6% Golden Jojoba Oil – Organic Certified = 30 grams
3% Botanical Complex LSCD = 15 grams
0.5% Coviox T50 = 2.5 grams

Part Three or Cool-down Phase:
5% Symglucan = 25 grams
1% Myrtle EO and Rosemary EO Blend = 5 grams
0.04% Rosemary Antioxidant CO2 Extract = 0.2 grams
1% Optiphen = 5 grams

100% Total = 500 grams

-Part One: Disperse HEC to room temperature water and heat until temperature reaches 170F – be careful not to scorch HEC.
-Part Two: Combine all oil soluble ingredients and heat until solids are melted.
-When both Phase One and Two are heated, pour Part One (water phase) into Part Two (oil phase) and begin mixing. High shear mixer such as a stick blender can be used.
-Continue to mix until emulsion begins to form and begins to cool
-As emulsion begins to thicken and cool, switch to the hand held wire whisk
-When emulsion is 100F or less, add Part Three (cool-down phase) and continue to mix with the wire whisk until completely cool. 500 gram batch will yield about 16-17 ounces. Package in jars.

This formula is one of my favorites. Each ingredient lends its own unique characteristics to the formula.

● SugarMulse is one of the best of the new nonionic, PEG-free, biodegradable, plant derived self-emulsifiers. SugarMulse offers excellent stability and a conditioned skin feel and is easy to use.
Self-emulsifiers or Complete Emulsifiers provide emulsification as well as stability and thickening due to the fatty alcohol portion. But sometimes it's helpful to include a low HLB emulsifier or water phase stabilizers. In this formula, no other emulsifier is necessary, but we do include a water phase stabilizer/thickener.

● HEC or Hydrodroxyethyl Cellulose is a water dispersible, water phase thickener and stabilizer. Water phase thickeners/stabilizers provide a structure that allows for greater stability and also enhances the overall feel of the product.
Other water dispersible stabilizers/thickeners that can be used are XanThix or UltraMaize at varying percentages.

● Golden Jojoba Oil is USDA NOP Organic Certified and is simply an outstanding quality oil. Jojoba Oil is nourishing and conditioning to skin and is quickly absorbed without residue.
Other oils that can be used are Marula Oil, Abyssinian Oil, Sunflower Seed Oil, or almost any vegetable oil. I prefer using the more stable oils as mentioned.

● Cupuacu Butter is a luscious butter that has the capacity to moisturize and condition skin leaving a soft, supple feel.
I have also used our Shea Butter USDA NOP Certified Organic with excellent results.

● Botanical Complex LSCD contains nutrient-rich extracts of Burdock, Elder Flower, Lavender, Calendula, and Cleavers and provides emolliency as well.
I have used Calendula Extract OS and our Rose Extract OS (not yet available for sale) with good results.

● Symglucan is an exciting multifunctional, antiaging ingredient manufactured by Symrise. SymGlucan® is made by a patented technology which refines Oat Beta-Glucan to produce a highly active soluble fraction. Symglucan is primarily marketed as an antiaging product, but I use it in almost everything I make for myself. Symglucan softens skin and is the best humectant I’ve ever used. I figure I deserve it :-) There really is not a good substitute for Symglucan since it offers unique characteristics.

● Coviox T50 is utilized in the formula for its antioxidant capabilities to help protect the Cupuacu Butter from oxidation.

● I’ve included Rosemary Antioxidant CO2 Extract for antioxidant capabilities also. In addition to antioxidant capabilities, Rosemary Antioxidant CO2 Extract serves as an antimicrobial and an anti-inflammatory – a perfect addition to a Gardener’s Hand Cream.

● The primary antimicrobial is Optiphen. Optiphen along with Rosemary Antioxidant CO2 Extract and the essential oils of Myrtle and Lavender will serve as the entire preservative system.
I have also made this cream with Geranium, Rosemary, and other essential oils, but particularly like the fresh clean scent of Lavender with the Myrtle eos.
I hope you will enjoy this cream as much as we do!


Happy Spring!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Winter Solstice and Joy in the New Year

The Winter Solstice is a time for introspection, a time to be quiet, and a time to listen. I was fortunate to be able to take time in December to reflect on the past year, contemplate where I hope to go in the future, but most of all just enjoy the present. We all live such busy lives that it’s much too easy to lose touch with ourselves and the truly important things in life. For me, spending time with Nature is revitalizing and essential to my well-being. We are fortunate to live in an area with many trees, plants, and animals. Included in our 21 acres are gardens, woodlands, open grassy spaces.

This time of year I especially enjoy going into the woods. In Winter, the woods are often crystal-clear, crisp-cold, and full of wonderful things. Sometimes our southern winter woods are misty and soft.

I love our woodlands and always look forward to my winter journeys. Nature is a good teacher and healer if we allow ourselves to accept the gifts she has to offer.

In my last blog, I wrote about the hummingbird visitor to my garden. Well, she is still here and I have named her Joy! The Saturday before Thanksgiving was a beautiful, balmy day and I was treating myself to some rest and relaxation in my “Secret Garden” when I heard a familiar chit-chit, chit-chit. I turned around and just behind me, a tiny hummingbird was perched in my huge Belinda rose! At first I thought she was a Ruby-Throated hummer remaining from summer, but I soon discovered she was not our typical summer visitor. This little hummer was a visiting Rufous from the Pacific Northwest!

Since Thanksgiving I have been inspired to read and learn as much as possible about hummingbirds. Winter hummers in the Southeast are almost always Selasphoras rufous (Rufous) hummingbirds. Rufous hummers typically over-winter in Mexico and breed/nest in the Pacific Northwest - as far north as Alaska. But over the last 10 years or so, according to experts such as Bob Sargent at the Hilton Pond Center in Rock Hill, SC and also Susan Campbell, researcher at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, Rufous hummers have been seen during winter at feeders in the Southeast. Information from their websites and other birding websites has been very helpful to me. But no one seems to know for sure why these little birds are visiting the Southeast. It’s hard for me to imagine this tiny bird traveling over 3000 miles to my garden, but I am honored that she is here!

Until early December, our flowers were still blooming and provided plenty of nectar along with the sugar water feeders. Joy was happily zooming from feeder to feeder and flower to flower. But by mid to late December when temperatures were consistently below 28F, the flowers were gone and the sugar water was frozen. Most of the east coast experienced very cold temperatures and we were no different here in SC. Our garden thermometer registered 12F lows with highs around freezing or less. These consistently low temperatures are unusual for South Carolina and I could not help but think Joy chose the wrong winter to visit us! I confess I stayed awake at least a couple of nights worried about whether or not she would freeze to death and I prayed for her to be ok. My maternal instinct wanted to bring her inside or build her a warm little house to keep her safe, but according to Susan, the best thing I could do is keep her “nectar” available. So, each morning before dawn, I bundled up and made the short trek to my office to prepare her sugar water feeders. At first light, I was outside with feeders hung, waiting and watching and listening for Joy. Sure enough, as if by magic, each morning, around 7:10am-7:20am I’d hear her chit-chit, chit-chit as she would zoom in to the feeder near her favorite Monsieur Tillier rose. I would breathe a sigh of relief and send thanks to the universe for keeping her safe another night.

We wonder how this tiny little bird with a very high metabolism can survive long, cold nights? She is using the ancient and fascinating survival technique called “torpor”. Torpor is a type of deep sleep similar to hibernation where she can lower her metabolic rate by as much as 95%. By achieving this state of torpor, she maintains a cooler body temperature and therefore requires up to 50 times less energy. During torpor, the heart rate slows and there are no visible signs of life. This night time body temperature is barely sufficient to maintain life and is sometimes referred to as the sleep of death. According to researchers, torpor appears to depend on the circadian rhythms and doesn’t seem to be effected by outside stimulus. It reportedly takes about 20 minutes for a hummer to awake from torpor during which time the heart rate increases and wing muscles begin to vibrate which helps to warm the blood supply. So, my job as friendly human has been to make sure the “nectar” is available when Joy awakes from torpor and is ready for her morning energy drink. This I have gladly done each morning.

Joy’s favorite Monsieur Tillier rose is big – nearly eight feet by eight feet. She likes to perch and chit-chit in this rose bush much of the day. She also enjoys perching in the huge Belinda rose which is where I first saw her. My Belinda rose is close to 12 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Earlier blogs have pictures of both Belinda and Monsieur Tillier. Another favorite spot is in the Sarah van Fleet which is close to the sugar water feeder in the Secret Garden. She and the other birds – cardinals, chickadees, house finch - seem to feel protected in the many thorny branches of these rose bushes. I have wondered if she roosts at night in one of these bushes, but it’s hard to know for sure since she seems to appear out of the air every morning. I have tried to figure it out for weeks. I’ve watched carefully from several different locations, but never can tell precisely where she has spent the night.

Hummers need nectar from flowers, but also require insects for protein and other nutrients. Even when the temperatures are below freezing, hummers are very resourceful at finding insects. But these little birds have also adapted to the availability of sugar water feeders and may rely on them for survival – particularly in winter. I’m not sure what would have happened to Joy if the sugar water feeder had not been available each morning. Would she have found another food source? Would she have survived? I’ll never know for sure, but it is perfectly clear to me that we have shared a wonderful and mutually beneficial relationship this winter.

As the days and weeks have gone by, I’ve continued this morning routine even though the weather most days is well above freezing and I don’t need to monitor the feeders as closely. Going into the garden before dawn is something I look forward to each day. I quietly listen, watch, and wait as our world wakes up. At first light, I hear the cardinals and chickadees begin the chirp, chirp – chirp, chirp. The cardinals, one by one, fly to the pergola with the Lady Banks Rose and soon there are dozens on the nearly bare branches that look like red Christmas tree ornaments. Soon after the chickadees and cardinals begin to gather and the sky is turning a lovely shade of peachy pink, Joy magically appears for her morning “nectar”. Zooming in for a quick sip sip, she then perches for a while in her Monsieur Tillier rose bush and we have our early morning “chit-chit chat”.

So, how long will she stay in my garden? Susan the researcher said perhaps as long as March when she decides it’s time to go back to the Northwest to find a mate. I do hope she will stay until March and I also hope she will revisit next winter.

But one thing is certain, I have learned so much about life from this tiny, yet brave and tenacious bird. Perhaps one of the most important lessons for me is to always remember that Joy can be found in my garden! The gift of her joyous, colorful, resourceful spirit will always be with me.

Happy New Year with Love and Joy!